Decibrity Playlist: Giant Squid (Part 1)

Giant Squid‘s debut LP, Metridium Fields, was re-recorded in the very early days of Decibel and we’ve been following the group’s musical trajectory ever since. Fortunately, the band is still going strong, having released a new album at the end of October. While guitarist/vocalist Aaron John Gregory described the record as a “giant love letter to the Mediterranean and specifically Bronze-age Greece,” the essay he penned for us below is his epic love letter to music. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did. Be sure to pick up a copy of Giant Squid’s latest LP, Minoans, here and stay tuned for part two next week.

How I discovered some important music while growing up in the suburban wastelands of Sacramento (open an ale, grab some headphones and keep an open mind).

I owe my entire musical existence to punk rock. Seriously. Well, maybe Nirvana before punk. And actually, probably Master of Puppets before Nirvana, but I didn’t know that yet when I heard it, cause my initial reaction to that album was pretty much total fucking terror (story below). But the scars that Puppets left on my eight year old self most likely resurfaced into something useful much later on. And even before that, it was The Monkees and Beach Boys all day long–mostly “best of” tapes for both–so I’m sure they too planted some important seeds in my early musical consciousness because I rocked the shit out those bands on my Grandpa’s Sony boombox cassette player growing up.

One thing was sure: I actively wanted to listen to music when I was really young and just fed my desire with whatever was catchy and close at hand in my sheltered, suburban life growing up in Carmichael, CA, a suburb of Sacramento. Mostly all my parents had laying around was 90% Jimmy Buffet, so pickings were very, very slim. But as I got older and started to put myself out there, Sacramento turned out to be not such a bad place to grow up and discover important music.

My Dad one day took me skiing. I was about eight. I fucking hated skiing. My Dad fucking loved skiing. Skiing scared the shit out of me, but I wanted to make the old man happy and not be a pussy, because we all know that skiing in the ’80s was super manly. Before we hit I-80 East towards Reno, we stopped at Tower Records in Orangevale, CA, right by Sunrise Mall. He wanted to grab some album that had just come out. I wanna say it was something cool like 38 Special, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks or The Kinks (which was about as cool as my Dad’s musical taste got), but I’m sure it was just another fucking Jimmy Buffet album. I can’t remember. But my Dad, among many things, was a generous dude and asked If I wanted something too. Here’s where my memory becomes crystal fucking clear. There was an endcap display of tapes, all with the craziest, darkest, most alluring picture on the front: hands in the sky playing a graveyard of tombstones as if they were marionette dolls. The top of the display repeated the image in a huge card board cutout and read: Metallica Master of Puppets. I’ll take this one.

On the first ski run of the day, I ate shit so hard and so ugly that my left leg twisted sideways at the knee, well beyond where even my childish rubber bones were capable of going. The pain was excruciating. I remember the panic and regret on my Dad’s face. One of the clearest memories I’ll ever have of him. The ski patrol came up and put me on a sled, hauled me down the mountain and Dad got me back to our Dodge camper van–one of those pop top versions with a side bench, little bathroom, sink and fridge. Now, my Dad was young. If I was barely eight, then my Dad was like 29ish. So I don’t necessarily blame him for doing what he did next. It boiled down to, “Are you okay? Yeah? Maybe rest here in the van a bit, listen to your new tape. Here’s a bottle of water and some vanilla wafers. I’m going to go get a couple more runs in, that okay?” Sure pops. Again, I can’t blame him. I ate snow on the first run half way down the bunny hill. My old man wanted to bounce black diamonds in his one-piece ski suit and aviators. So he bailed, but not after putting in my tape.

Now see the first paragraph above. Everything up to this point in my musical life was “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Little Surfer Girl”. My new tape starts to play. The gorgeous acoustic intro of “Battery” starts. I’m thinking, wow, this is really pretty. I did good on this pick. Then, well, ya know, “Battery” really starts, and I’m sure I spiritually shit myself. I remember so clearly just being fucking frightened. Laying on my back on the van bench, knee killing me, cold and alone, fucking “Battery” blasting. I made it only about ten or fifteen minutes in before pussing out and turning the stereo off, which would put me at about “The Thing That Should Not Be”. No wonder I aborted the mission.

Back then, I shelved the tape and didn’t revisit it ’til I was in sixth grade, most likely to impress, or scare off, the jocky neighborhood kids who listened to NWA and 2 Live Crew. I still have that exact tape to this day. And still think it’s one of the greatest, heaviest, most perfect albums ever made.

Nirvana: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on the radio when I was 13 and quickly my Appetite for Destruction and Master of Puppets tapes started collecting dust. I don’t need to say anything else about Nirvana. It’s all been said a million times before. What I can say is that I fucking loved Nirvana. My walls were wallpapered with posters and pics of the band. I bleached and then died my long hair with red Manic Panic. I wore shitty cardigans and tattered jeans.

About this time, the internet was just barely becoming a thing. The kid across the street had a computer and a program called Prodigy, which worked sort of like an internet browser by having internal message boards. I started going over there and writing other fans to trade live bootleg tapes via the mail. CDs were picking up momentum and some European companies were releasing live bootlegs on disc. After a while, one badly recorded Nirvana concert sounded like another, and years later I got rid of most of them. One CD in particular though was called Seventh Heaven, which I still have today. Earliest released version of “Rape Me” and two devastating versions of “Aneurysm” live.

When Nirvana played the Bosnia Rape Victim Benefit at the Cow Palace, my best buddy’s Mom drove us out there. When Kurt walked out on stage, I was only two people away from him, or should I say, two people away from the front barrier. At that moment all of the Cow Palace surged forward. I was a scrawny 15 year old. I lasted about six songs before feeling like I was going to shit and puke at the same time. I looked behind me and there was a mountain of a man, like a biker if an oak tree could be a biker. He looked at me, saw me turning green, asked if I needed help, which I most certainly did, and grabbed me. Somehow, against thousands of people seemingly pressing down on him, he was able to turn around and push me through some of the crowd and away from the stage…directly into the “mosh pit”. From there I battled my way to the bleachers and sat down, sad, watching the rest of the show. They played a bunch of jams from the yet-to-be-released In Utero.

That’s the concert above. As Kurt walks out, imagine me about eight feet in front of him. So fucking stoked to have seen him live. Fast forward 15 minutes in and watch them them plow through “Milk It” for the first time probably ever live.

Punk rock: About the same time I was really into Nirvana, I discovered punk rock. My first show ever was The Dead Milkmen at the legendary Cattle Club, about a year before that Nirvana gig above. I think my second gig was NOFX at the same venue. I had some Angry Samoans tapes, a couple Circle Jerks and D.I. tapes and finally some Dead Kennedys albums. I loved it all. Fast, pissed, easy to understand. But most of these bands were also damn fucking goofy, even when they were trying to really convey something lyrically of importance. Then, a neighborhood kid who had spent most of our time growing up together being the biggest thorn-in-my-side bully asshole, asked if I knew who the Subhumans were. And of course, when I didn’t, he made me feel like the fucking know-nothing poser that I surely was, of course…ahem. So, I went out to the local record shop just down the street that had a surprisingly well stocked punk rock section and promptly stole (sorry Mom) my first Subhumans tape, EP-LP. Fuck the bully for being such a fucking prick through elementary and junior high, but god bless him for exposing me to such amazing music.

The Subhumans changed my life.

I was vegetarian for over ten years after listening to the incredible peace-punk messages deeply entrenched in the Subs’ songs. I fucking rejected authority (high-school teachers), questioned my country (wore a shitty American flag upside down on my lame bomber jacket) and started really wanting to get good at bass, which was my instrument of choice then. Because the Subhumans weren’t just lyrically captivating in their anarcho-socio brilliance, they were goddamn progressive rock! No, they were still punk, punk as fuck! But they intermixed other genres of music like British style rocksteady reggae, Black Sabbath style doom licks and oddball time changes like early Genesis. They had a 16 minute song that took up the entire second side of an LP! And all of it was never contrived, never self-serving, never corny. It stayed pissed, dark, abrasive and was fast as fuck at times, while still slowing down to allow the band to stretch its musical prowess. Bruce, the Submhumans’ guitarist, will go down as my biggest influence today. His tendency to bounce around half-step driven, odd time, punk dirge riffs is the foundation of anything I attempt to do on guitar more than 20 years later.

For me, a metalhead looking to listen to Subs for the first time should start at From the Cradle to the Grave and then Worlds Apart. All of their albums are flawless, but those two records in general are the highest level of craft punk rock has ever achieved and are basically progressive rock masterpieces. I dare anyone to argue that point. The first Subhumans video is the 16 minute side B track from Cradle to the Grave, the second is Worlds Apart in its entirety.

Here’s a video of Giant Squid covering a Subhumans song at a Citizen Fish show we played a while back. One of the most fun moments I’ve ever had on stage.

About this time, I finally had a real solid band with a slew of songs. We were called Eggs in Your Face. It was a combination of dumbed down Nirvana simpleness and F.Y.P. snarkiness, all put to a 1-2, 1-2 fast punk beat, and it fucking ruled. I played bass and did “back up” vocals. My other Nirvana obsessed friend, Jason Divine, played guitar and sang and wrote the lyrics. Jordan, who was from another band that I was trying to get going called The Retards, played drums. The Retards, despite the dumb-as-fuck name, thought we sounded like the Submhumans or Minor Threat, at least in spirit. But Eggs in Your Face just sounded like three brats who were outside your house throwing eggs at your car.

One day, Jason and I both got pulled into the principal’s office separately when a little comic strip trading scheme we had was discovered. Sophomore year we both had art class at different periods. I’d draw some ridiculous Eggs In Your Face themed comic, usually us kicking dogs or blowing up the school, and placed it in his bin. Then he’d come to class second period and find it, laugh, then one-up me with something funnier, which I’d find next time I came in. Back then, Jason could draw circles around me, so shit got really good, and really crass, very quick. Of course the hippie art teacher eventually found it and reported it, hence the visit to the principal’s office. This was all pre-Columbine; we would have been expelled if it was ten years later, or worse. The principal asked if we really wanted to kick dogs or blow up the school. Of course we said no. I fucking love dogs. So we were off the hook, but were told to cut that shit out. So we channeled our ridiculous ideas through our band.

The video above is a pretty rad live recording of us playing at a party. I dare you to get three songs in. “Bring Dynamite to Your School” is one of my faves.

Soon after, towards the end of my junior year in high school, I met the dudes who would go on to create Giant Squid with me. But first we had to trudge through years of figuring it out. We started a band called The Pedestrians, which then changed its name to The Chinese Connection (simply after the Bruce Lee movie and for no other reason) and eventually The Connection. All incarnations played fast-ass punk with jarring breaks into upbeat rocksteady reggae. Yup. The Pedestrians played countless local shows at every coffee shop, parking lot, friend’s garage, pizza parlor, bowling alley and even during lunch at our high school. By the time we were The Connection, we sort of knew what we were doing and started recording in studios to 1″ tape. By the time we matured into The Connection, I tried to become Mr. Social Commentator. Again, listening to way too much Subhumans and Citizen Fish.

The video above is a snippet of us playing at a pizza place in Davis, California, 1996. Thanks to Ryan Bird for uploading this recently and several of the other videos below.

*Stay tuned for Part 2 next week

**Photo by Lauren Wiest

***Order a copy of Giant Squid’s Minoans here

****For past Decibrity entries, click here